Prague September 2016

ECPR-EIP panel on "Strengthening integrity through electoral reforms"

7-10 Sept 2016, ECPR General Conference, Prague. 

The panel is part of the section on “Changing political institutions: New perspectives in the study of reforms and their consequences.” Chairs: C. Bedock, D. Bol & T. Ehrhard.

This panel discusses the link between electoral reforms and the overall quality of electoral governance and integrity. Papers provide evidence on the relationship between these two phenomena, by looking at how policy reforms enhance electoral integrity (consequences of reforms) and how poor levels of electoral integrity and governance shape the conditions for subsequent policy changes (causes of reforms).

Panel Chair Dr. Alessandro Nai (University of Sydney)

Discussant Max Grömping (University of Sydney) / tbc

Paper 1Agenda-building for Electoral Reform: Explaining Media Attention to Domestic Election Monitoring Initiatives

Max Grömping (University of Sydney)

Domestic election monitoring organizations engage in ‘information politics’ (Keck & Sikkink 1998) with the dual goal of altering the cost-benefit calculations of politicians in the short term (first-order effects), and affecting electoral reform in the long run (second-order effects). Existing studies unpack the first-order effects through field experiments and show evidence that the presence of observers can serve as a deterrent to election fraud at the micro-level (Ichino and Schündeln 2012). But less is known about second-order effects and longer term consequences of election monitoring activities.
 This study makes a contribution to this emerging literature by proposing an agenda-building model of electoral reform. As outsiders to the political system, election watch groups first need to garner media attention for their group as the necessary pre-condition to getting the issue of electoral integrity onto the public and policy agenda. While some existing studies locate the driving factors of media attention for interest groups mainly at the issue-level or characteristics of the media system, this study argues that organizational characteristics are crucial determinants of media attention to domestic election monitoring initiatives. In particular, it expects that media attention is positively related to the resources a group commands, its level of professionalization – in particular its ability to ‘clone’ the requirements of journalists, and its organizational history and standing as an established and recognized social actor. It hence concurs with studies proposing a ‘power law’ of media attention – with very few resourceful, experienced and professionalized groups commanding a large amount of attention while the majority of groups go unnoticed. In investigating this thesis in a comparative perspective, the study uses new data from an organizational survey of 383 domestic election monitoring groups in 110 countries, measuring their experience, news-cloning abilities, and resources. This is combined with a measure of news attention towards these initiatives, derived from a Factiva query of newspaper articles mentioning the group in English and local-language dailies. In addition, the study draws on the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) expert survey to monitor issue-salience, restrictions to domestic monitors, and the gatekeeping role of the media.

 Paper 2Changing Nature and Future of Electoral Reform Studies – Lessons from Pakistan and Bangladesh

Hassan Nasir Mirbahar (Democracy Reporting International)

Major reforms, largely explained through rational choice theory, dominate the scholarly research on electoral reforms. Some recent literature has moved forward categorizing the reforms into major, minor and technical. Others argue to have a more holistic approach to study electoral reforms and look at possibilities of dropping the classifications of the reforms; stressing to look at legislative changes affecting electoral processes, rather than focusing only on electoral system changes, to help better understand the electoral reforms. The literature also points to broaden the scope of the reforms studies from established democracies to emerging and transitional democracies. These broader definitions together with the electoral integrity framework – use of electoral cycle approach and international standards on election – can set a new direction for electoral reform studies, this paper argues. Such studies can help contribute towards improved electoral integrity. While set in different political context, the cases of electoral reforms in Pakistan and Bangaldesh point out that the reforms focused on electoral processes and institutional set up under which elections are held, rather than change of electoral system per-se, the so called major reform. Distrust of parties and stakeholders over the electoral processes due to historically messy electoral practices have led to the reforms in both countries to improve various aspects of electoral process in an electoral cycle. The paper uses these cases studies to compare electoral reforms process, undertaken between 2002 and 2013, in two countries to support why studying such electoral reforms may be important. Similar trends are also observed in other new or emerging democracies, such as Nigeria, Kenya, Afghanistan and India.  Part one of the paper defines theoretical framework for the paper. Building upon the recent studies which define electoral reforms as changing legislation that affects the election processes, the paper uses the electoral integrity approach – electoral cycle and international standards - to understand the electoral reforms and argues that future electoral reform research can benefit from the use the electoral integrity framework for understanding the electoral reforms. The paper also shows here that in developing countries/new democracies, perceptions about quality of elections are linked with the electoral integrity guaranteed by legal and institutional framework for elections – as case studies from Africa, Latin America and some other countries also show. The quality of elections is then further linked with overall regime stability and consolidation of democracy. Hence, studying reforms that strengthen or hamper quality of elections will be useful in manifolds.  Part two of the paper presents the electoral reform done in Pakistan and Bangladesh between 2002 and 2013 to compare and contrast the types of reforms conducted and major reasons behind them. In both the cases, the reforms were aimed at improving various aspects of the electoral process e.g. improving electoral rolls, strengthening independence of EMBs and securing transparency of the process etc.

 Paper 3Democratic Revolution: Evaluating Electoral Reform in an Old Democracy 

Theresa Reidy (University College Cork) 
Fiona Buckley (University College Cork) 
David Farrell (University College Dublin) 

This paper will assess the implementation and consequences of the electoral reform programme of the Irish government over the period 2011-2016. Electoral reform became a minor but important part of the discussion in the lead up to the 2011 general election in Ireland. All of the political parties included policy proposals in their party manifestoes and there was considerable mobilisation on the issue with civil society groups, business leaders and the media putting forward reform plans. Despite this apparent widespread activity, it must be acknowledged that the reform campaign remained at the level of an elite conversation. Distilling down the detail of the proposals, the shared goals were lofty and promised nothing less than a transformation of electoral politics. Gender quotas, new political finance regulations and an independent election management body were among the reform proposals. Ireland had few serious street protests or demonstrations over the crisis years and the 2011 election was described as its ballot box revolution, with the newly elected government promising a democratic revolution once in office. However, the revolution ran aground and electoral reform returned to the agenda in 2016 albeit with less prominence. 
The paper has three objectives. First, it will track the emergence and reasons for the electoral campaign drawing on opinion poll evidence, party manifestoes and data from the political reform civil society campaign. Second, it will review the electoral reform content of the Programme for Government and assess the implementation of the main commitments. Informed by Bowler and Donovan (2013), the third section of the paper will evaluate the extent to which the electoral reforms have delivered enhanced electoral integrity. Data from the 2011 and 2016 waves of the electoral integrity audit of Ireland will be used to provide insights into elite evaluations and data from the Irish National Election Studies of 2011 and 2016 will be used to determine the impact of electoral reforms on voter trust and confidence in the electoral process. At elite level, the debate around electoral reform is now marred by disappointment and disaffection and mindful of this, the paper will conclude with some tentative lessons for other established democracies engaging in wide ranging electoral reform.

 Paper 4Strategies of actors influencing electoral integrity: Comparison of the Czech and Slovak case 

Ivan Jarabinský (Masaryk University) 

The quality of elections differs across countries while (un)problematic elections are not made by themselves. The drivers of the different trajectories of election integrity in a given context are political actors which are interested in electoral outcomes. The goal of this study is to examine the behaviour of important actors which influence the quality of parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic and Slovakia since elections in 1998. The text attempts to answer these questions: “What are the strategies of political actors in electoral processes which could improve or decrease the quality of elections?” “Do these tactics differ across observed countries?” “Do they differ in time?” 
The Czech Republic and Slovakia shared the history in common state prior to 1993. After its split, the quality of elections has had different trajectories. At the same time, the contextual explaining indicators (which proved to be significant for the outcome) used in recent studies (e.g. Birch 2011, Van Ham 2012, Lindberg 2009, etc.) can be seen as relatively similar with an exception of Slovakia’s higher social heterogeneity. Keeping that in mind, it is possible to compare the two similar countries on the level of electoral stakeholders’ behaviour. It could give the impression that the quality of elections is higher in Czech because of “better” or more “moral” elites which are not interested in influencing elections wrong way. But is that true? Speaking about the post-transitional era, the new democratic elections cannot, from their nature, prevent previous “undemocratic” incumbents from candidacy. The uncertainty of electoral outcomes must be achieved (Przeworski 1991: 13). It means that some elites from previous era can be present in the legislative body. Therefore, the assumption that the behavior (or thinking) of these actors (and also some others who had grown in the undemocratic era) has completely changed under new circumstances can be rejected. In electoral studies, there are three main branches of literature dealing with actors’ (non-voters) behaviour, i.e. studies about undemocratic regimes (e.g. Magaloni 2010), transitional literature (e.g. Bermeo 2010), and electoral engineering (e.g. Benoit 2004; Colomer 2004). These studies are not always necessarily directly connected to the elections’ quality but their outcomes could improve the understanding of actors behaviour under different conditions. Based on these studies it is built the framework for analysis of actors’ strategies. This framework is constructed (based on Mozaffar and Schedler 2002) in a way to what kind of goal is to be followed by certain actors. Specific tactics are based mainly on the work of Schedler (2002; 2013), Mozaffar and Schedler (2002), and Birch (2011). The analysis consists of different kinds of sources. Among these are most important parties’ strategic documents (programmes), secondary analyses (providing the explanation of behaviour), and news (offering information about behaviour on daily basis). 
The results will provide the description of main electoral stakeholder’s behaviour which allows to better understanding of what stands behind the different electoral quality, i.e. whether it is different behaviour or rather other constraints which were not captured by recent quantitative studies.

 Paper 5The impact of the selection rules of the Mexican electoral councillors on the public trust and transparency

Marisol Reyes (
University of Essex) 

In the last twenty five years the Mexican electoral system has experienced six crucial reforms. The driving force that explains such systematic transformations lies on the fact that political actors seek for improving the quality and fairness in the competition. For more than seventy years, the Mexican electoral system was substantially controlled by the government and consequently the institutions responsible of its governance were unaccountable. One of the major achievements of the 1996 electoral reform was the independence of the electoral management body from the executive branch, as well as the establishment of a judicial body responsible of the electoral dispute resolutions. The body of new rules and innovation implemented in the Mexican electoral system had satisfactory results for one decade. Yet, despite the significant progress achieved, the contentious outcomes of the presidential elections held in 2006 and 2012 damaged its public trust and challenged the legitimacy of the electoral governance again. The controversies and post-electoral conflict created the conditions for continuing the negotiation among the political actors and pursue further electoral reforms. The most recent one took place in 2014 and it is regarded as ground breaking due to the transformation of the structure and functioning of the electoral administrative body established in 1996.
  Since the implementation of the 2014 electoral reform, the National Electoral Institute has held one mid-term election for electing 500 deputies in the Mexican Congress in June 2015, while 18 states held local elections the same date. 
The trust of the political actors in the electoral process is a crucial feature of the quality of elections. Taking into consideration the relevance of the 2014 electoral reform mentioned above, this study seek for answering the following research question: what is the impact of the new rules and procedures implemented for the selection of the electoral councillors appointed in the national and local management bodies from 2000 to 2015 in the transparency and public trust of the electoral processes?